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STRONG LIGHT-TRUCK SALES HELP AUTOMAKERS GAIN 10.3% OVER LAST AUGUST

The major automakers shook off some of the inventory problems that produced a flat July and finished August with sales of cars and light trucks 10.3 percent ahead of a year ago.

Much of the industry's strength continued to be in light trucks. Dealers can't keep enough pickups, vans and sport-utility vehicles on hand to meet customers' demands.In fact, Ford Motor Co.'s passenger car sales were down 9.4 percent from August 1993 and Chrysler Corp.'s were down a fraction, but strong truck sales kept both from losing ground.

General Motors Corp. rebounded from a July report that showed its overall vehicle sales down from a year earlier. The No. 1 automaker's August car sales were 18 percent ahead of last year, truck sales nearly 15 percent.

"We think that's a good recovery," GM executive vice president William Hoglund said Tuesday after sales figures were released.

Industry executives and analysts agreed that sales are being held down somewhat because the manufacturers don't have the factory capacity to satisfy demand for better-selling models.

In addition, production of new models is still "ramping up," automotive jargon for the slower, startup phase of building a vehicle when the assembly process is being fine-tuned.

"We're still moaning about availability, but it's better," Hoglund said. "We're still selling what we build."

He said GM expects the industry will finish the year with sales of 15.3 million vehicles, compared with 14.2 million last year.

Several car companies will bring high-profile new models to showrooms this fall, setting the stage for what many expect to be a strong fourth quarter.

"We expect our momentum to accelerate further starting Sept. 29, when we unveil most of our 1995 car and truck lines," said Ford sales and marketing vice president Robert L. Rewey.

Japanese carmakers showed more growth than the industry as a whole in August. Toyota's overall sales led the pack, up 23.4 percent from a year ago, but Nissan and Honda also gained.

Honda's Accord pulled ahead of Ford Taurus as the country's best-selling passenger car of the year through the end of August.

Across the industry, truck sales were 13.8 percent ahead of a year ago. Car sales were up 8.1 percent.

Ford set its 11th straight monthly truck record and sold nearly as many minivans as Chrysler, which created and has dominated that market.